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Government Good to Stevens’ Friends

Watchdogs argue that regardless of whether Stevens took any inappropriate actions on behalf of his business partners, his relationship with them highlights the need for significant revisions to Senate financial disclosure rules.

Last month, Taxpayers for Common Sense and the National Law and Policy Center proposed a series of ethics rule reforms that in part address the question of lawmakers’ business relationships. The watchdog groups argue that Members should be required to provide the public with greater information on their business dealings, including detailing whom they enter into business relationships with. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), the groups argue that “While current rules call for disclosure of assets of the lawmaker, there is no requirement that co-ownership of closely held investments be disclosed. There have been numerous examples in which special interests have curried improper favors with elected officials by including the official in a purported investment. In these cases, the officeholder typically receives an extraordinary return on investment with little or no risk.”

“There ought to be complete transparency of these types of relationships,” the Sunlight Foundation’s Allison said, arguing that lawmakers should be required to disclose the names of their business partners in addition to simply disclosing their investments. While “you’re always going to have situations where Members have a vested interest in things they’re doing” in the Senate, greater disclosure would help limit the appearance of wrongdoing, Allison argued.

Allison also said a second step should be a more robust — and fully transparent — recusal process. “I think Members should recuse themselves from more things than they do,” Allison said, arguing that the Senate should drop the secrecy that now veils the process.

“All these arrangements should be open,” he said.

Emma Dumain and Bryce Bauer contributed to this report.

Correction: July 12, 2007
The article incorrectly reported that the husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard Blum, works for a defense contractor. Blum is chairman of Blum Capital Partners, which has invested in companies, including defense contractors, that have received federal funding.

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